Dawn speaks on the Welfare Cap debate on 16 December 2015

Dawn questions the government on the Welfare Cap.

Dawn Butler: There is increasing evidence that this policy will cost the public purse more. Is it not a false economy?

Greg Mulholland: I am absolutely clear that there have been changes to the benefits system that were mistaken, including under the last Government, and I said so at the time. However, I absolutely support the household benefit cap. I do agree, however, that we need a sensible approach, and we must incentivise work and focus social security on those who need it. Those of us who believe passionately in the welfare state—I am sure the hon. Lady does, as do I—must be able to justify it and show that it is helping people who cannot work or are unable to find work. That must be the focus, but it has not been previously.

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that some of the changes brought in by this Conservative majority Government, without the Liberal Democrats to restrain them, have been mistaken and ideological, particularly the cap on child benefit on the basis of the number of children that someone has, regardless of circumstance. We opposed and stopped such measures, but now people are seeing what a Conservative majority Government with an ideological policy, as opposed to a pragmatic one, will do.

We welcome the fact that the right decision was made on tax credits, and on this occasion it is right to be prepared to breach the welfare cap. In other years we would like that cap to be adhered to, but given current circumstances and the projections for what the change to tax credits will do, this is the right decision, and those on the Treasury Bench should not be criticised for being prepared to breach the welfare cap for that reason in this financial year. That would be playing politics with this issue in the way that the Chancellor did with his ideological nonsense of the fiscal charter, when he sought to stop the Treasury having the flexibility that any Chancellor—and in this case the Secretary of State—must have.

We welcome this U-turn and fully accept the need to breach the welfare cap this year. We hope that the Government will live within their means in future years, but not by balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. We will continue to take a pragmatic approach and oppose anything that we believe is draconian, ideologically driven and unfair. At the same, we hope that the Government will continue in the same vein as the coalition Government, by incentivising people to work, and by getting more people into work with fewer people on benefits. As a civilised society we must ensure that our welfare state continues to help people who are unable to work or who genuinely cannot find it. That is our position and we will continue to make that case.

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